Life Without Buildings were a short-lived but lovingly remembered band whose afterlife means that may be long gone but are not forgotten.
Formed in 1999 and disbanded in 2002, they were were part art-project, part pop band, equally at home on the two King Street venues that played an important part in their short career: the Transmission Gallery and the 13th Note Cafe.
Like many bands that formed at or around the Glasgow School of Art (see also Travis and Franz Ferdinand), the members came from around the country, with only guitarist, Robert Johnson, native to the city. He formed the band with drummer, Will Bradley, and bassist, Chris Evans, while all three were art students, before later asking singer, Sue Tompkins, to join.
For a group that simultaneously sounded like the (post-punk) past and their own singular vision of the future, their arrival at the end of the millennium seemed timely and urgent. But their quiet dissolution a couple of years later is perhaps the biggest single factor in their subsequent (re) discovery. If part of their legacy is down to the music, it also because hey did not overstay their welcome. With just one album, Any Other City (2001) and three associated singles, there were no subsequent artistic wrong turns or internecine feuds to diminish their considerable achievements. LWB managed the unusual trick of neither burning out nor entirely fading away.
This should not, however, underplay what they did achieve in the three years.
As well as being briefly omnipresent in their home city, they quickly signed to Tugboat Records (an offshoot of Rough Trade) and released their debut single, The Leanover / New Town, in 2000. Around the same time, they made an appearance on the BBC Choice programme, Beat Room, which was produced and recorded in Glasgow (at G2, behind The Garage). This remains one of the few pieces of live footage of the band from the time.
February 2001 saw the release of Any Other City with a launch night at the 13th Note Club in Glasgow featuring some of their peers – El Hombre Trajeado, Sputniks Down and Eska.
Outside the confides of Clyde Street, it is debatable how much the rest of the world noticed at the time, but the band continued for another fourteen months, winning new friends along the way.
They were on a mismatched bill with The Strokes when the fresh-faced Americans made their London debut, played the new bands stage at T in the Park, did a residency at the 13th Note (the King Street one this time) and toured the UK with Belle and Sebastian in early 2002.
Despite these achievements, few attending their last show in April 2002 at the 100 capacity Stereo (the name at the time of what is now The 78 on Kelvinhaugh Street), would have imagined that without performing together as a band subsequently, the band would enjoy a considerable afterlife, with music publications like The Quietus, and Pitchfork – which gave the album an 8.7 rating – all producing glowing retrospectives on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary in 2021.
In their short lifespan, they were even able to make some incursions overseas, playing in Greece and doing a short tour of Australia in December 2001. A show from the latter, Live at the Annandale, was released some six years later, the only new addition the band’s catalogue.
And twenty-one years on, it has never really felt like Life Without Buildings have entirely disappeared, their reputation enhanced with the passing of time. The aforementioned live album, recognition from their peers and successors, the vinyl reissues of Any Other City and perhaps most remarkably, the moment when another of their singles, The Leanover, became a viral TikTok sensation, a song from the pre-social media age reaching a whole new audience (mainly of young women as Tompkins noted at the time) in the process.
With a reformation unlikely for reasons of cost, practicality and a sense that is better to leave things as they are, all the band members have continued to be involved in various music and art projects since their demise, the former including Tompkins adding voice to El Hombre Trajeado’s Do It Puritan! in 2016 and the guitarist’s beautiful instrumental album, Reels, released in 2021 under the name which he is better known as an artist, Robert Dallas Gray. Tompkins provided the artwork for the sleeve.